Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The worst of politics or the best of government?

"A statesman is someone who does something for his country. A politician is someone who does his country for something."

I read that quip a long time ago, but it's something that has always stuck with me. Not because I see it as some irrefutable truth; but because as old as it is, it tends to sum up how so many people feel about politics and politicians today.

Before diving in on this point further, let me clear. I believe that there is a very strong sense of public service among many from our political class. A belief that there is a real contribution that can be made to life in Canada. This commitment to public service is reflected in some measure of sacrifice - time away from family and home, being perhaps the most significant. This is my view, and I believe that many share it.

So if that's the case, why do quips like the one above continue to resonate? Why are people disengaged from their democracy? Why do we see so much mistrust? I have some thoughts.

Let's look at the past year. Prorogation was seen as a tool to avoid accountability. Scandal was seen as more worthy of debate than issues. Pandering trumped dialogue and engagement. And attack ads continued to be the communications vehicle of choice.

It's because of issues like these that we have a government that has done a reasonable job on the economy, but still can't stay in "majority territory" for any sustained period of time. It's also the reason why we have an opposition that cannot mount a sustained challenge, despite the mis-steps of the government.

That bring us to today. Depending on who you listen to we have an opposition / "coalition" that is going to recklessly force an election, or a government that is ratcheting up the rhetoric and making the types of announcements that typically precede a call to the polls.

So if this is the case, what do we want? I have written on this blog on more than one occasion about the need to position Canada for success in the 21st century. Building a 21st century economy is about more than business. It's about health, the environment, security, social development, productivity - all supported by strong and functional democratic institutions, and an engaged citizenry.

In many respects, the world is at a cross roads. The economic landscape is changing, with power shifting to emerging markets. Environmental issues cast a long shadow, as do imminent demographic challenges. Global security remains an ongoing concern.

Canada is facing very real challenges and opportunities. We are faced with choices and we need to discuss them.

At this time, I expect the best of government. Unfortunately, too often I am faced with the worst of politics. For me governing is not about having all of the answers; but it does mean asking the right questions and then listening, engaging, communicating and making choices.

So as we consider the prospects of an election, that is my challenge to our politicians. Put aside the worst of politics and show me the best of the government.



  1. I think this is very well written and couldn't agree more with what you have said. I think the current political games played in Canada has turned voters off. Also contributing to voter apathy is the relatively stability from a governance side.

    It is my view that politicians tend to get highly partisan and forget the importance of governing when voters aren't demanding more. And in a vicious cycle, voters tune out when partisan rhetoric gets heated. But, I think, hightened partisanship is when Canadians must be engaged the most. Not neccessarily to take a side, but to remind politicians that ultimately they are meant to make this country successful and collectively strive for better and not simply 'one up' the other side.

    In short, the popular reason for voter apathy (tired of the games) should be seen as a reason to get involved and demand change.

    -Kendall :-)

  2. Thanks for the comment Kendall. By all accounts, we are about to see whether the voter is prepared to hold the politicians to account and demand the dialogue and real debate that an election can bring. Fingers crossed!


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